The Internet As America's One-Way Mirror On The World

The National Security Agency's spying on both its own citizens, and foreigners, has turned the idea of the "open web" on its head.

Logged on and watching
Logged on and watching
Andrian Kreye


MUNICH - It’s not exactly what we had in mind by transparency.

The American National Security Agency (NSA) has turned the Internet into a global surveillance apparatus -- or at least that’s the impression you get when wrapping your brain around the massive effort that’s gone into scouring all channels of communication for suspicious keywords.

Once again, our understanding of the nature of the Internet -- and with it, our conception of the digital society -- has been shaken.

Instead of envisioning the web as an unknown continent that a new generation is exploring and conquering, the picture that now comes to mind is of a crummy little interrogation room -- with a table, two chairs, and a vast one-way mirror through which the powers-that-be can watch and hear what’s going on.

But it’s not as if we weren’t warned. Two years ago, writer and researcher Evgeny Morozov was the first person, in his book The Net Delusion, to paint a detailed picture of how the radical freedom and transparency of the Internet could also be used by dictatorships to track their citizens. We know from China, Iran and Syria that not only this is done-- but that the consequences for those tracked in this way can be brutal.

We didn’t expect it of the United States. After all, wasn’t it President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who went on the offensive for digital diplomacy? Her Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross came up with many ingenious technological programs addressing some of the world’s greatest problems.

So that it should be the U.S. spying big time not only on their own but on the world’s population comes as confirmation of all those suspicions raised by conspiracy theories or action movies like the 1998 Will Smith film Enemy of the State.

There may be some good arguments for monitoring the Internet. Supposedly – the U.S. government is providing no details – a "major terrorist attack" on U.S. soil was foiled thanks to the surveillance. Terrorists, drug dealers and pedophiles have apparently been hunted down thanks to the surveillance. The standard argument of those in favor of this digital investigation bureau is that authorities are allowed to tap the phones of terrorists and dealers.

Under permanent surveillance

In an era when hardly anyone communicates by talking on the phone, with email, chats, social networks and texts the preferred means, all channels must be monitored. Or so the argument goes.

However there are big differences between listening in on a phone conversation and worldwide computer surveillance. And it is mainly the automatizing of the surveillance, in which keywords -- many of them out of context -- sound alarm bells, that turns Big Data from an opportunity to a threat.

Your name doesn’t have to be on an American No Fly List for you to understand how stubborn the profiles created by algorithms can be. Many a journalist who, in the course of doing research, has ordered books about unusual subjects has noted with amazement (looking at the “you might also be interested in this” list the bookseller’s site compiles automatically, based on orders) that they are now listed as anything from right-winger to Islamist to waltz-enthusiast.

What the scandal mainly shows, though, is that while the Internet may be a global medium, it continues to be first and foremost an American medium. The rest of the world is just a guest. And as such, it is under permanent surveillance. So behave yourself.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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